Far from a bal­ance

Com­pa­nies in Asia still seem to be ap­a­thetic about the im­por­tance and ben­e­fits of fos­ter­ing gen­der di­ver­sity in the work­place, stud­ies find

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - In Shang­hai


While the num­ber of women hold­ing top po­si­tions in the cor­po­rate world may be on the rise glob­ally, their progress in Asian coun­tries has re­mained par­tic­u­larly slow.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Women Mat­ter re­search by McKin­sey&Com­pany, the pro­por­tion of women sit­ting on cor­po­rate boards and ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tees in Asian com­pa­nies is strik­ingly low com­pared to Europe and the United States, de­spite the fact that women in those re­gions re­main un­der-rep­re­sented as well.

The study, which polled 744 com­pa­nies and 1,500 se­nior man­agers in 10 mar­kets, found that women on av­er­age ac­count for 6 per­cent of seats on cor­po­rate boards and 8 per­cent of those on ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tees in Asia. This is in stark con­trast to Europe (17 and 10 per­cent re­spec­tively) and the United States (15 and 14 per­cent).

In China, where fe­male la­bor par­tic­i­pa­tion rates rank among the high­est in the world, only 8 per­cent of cor­po­rate board mem­bers and 9 per­cent of ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers are women.

“Asian cul­ture hasn’t ma­tured enough to ac­cept the fact that women can hold a job and also have a fam­ily,” said Ellen Teo, CEO of Union En­ergy in Sin­ga­pore, in the Women in Busi­ness re­port by Grant Thorn­ton, which iden­ti­fies stereo­types and gen­der bias as sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers to lead­er­ship.

Linda Wirth, a gen­der ex­pert with the In­ter­na­tional La­bor Or­ga­ni­za­tion, said in the Grant Thorn­ton re­port that gen­der bias can range from the ques­tions asked in in­ter­views to men pre­sent­ing women’s ideas as their own in meet­ings.

“Bias is sub­tle at the be­gin­ning of a ca­reer, but causes a clear sep­a­ra­tion of ca­reer paths,” said Wirth.

The Women Mat­ter re­search find­ings cite the great­est ob­sta­cle faced by many work­ing women in Asia is the act of jug­gling work and fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. This is par­tic­u­larly so in cul­tures where women are ex­pected to shoul­der all house­hold du­ties.

Wang Yan­hong, who is the only fe­male board mem­ber of a chem­i­cal com­pany in Shang­hai, is no stranger to this prob­lem.

“In the be­gin­ning, it was quite dif­fi­cult for the other board mem­bers to lis­ten to me be­cause they couldn’t trust some­one who is a work­ing wife and a mother,” said Wang.

She added that male board mem­bers of­ten made de­ci­sions with­out ask­ing for her opin­ion and it was only when she se­cured two ma­jor deals us­ing her own re­sources and net­work that the men were fi­nally con­vinced of her abil­ity.

“I don’t want to be iso­lated just be­cause I am the only woman in the group. There should be equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery mem­ber to ex­press his or her opin­ions and ideas,” said Wang.

McKin­sey’s re­search also re­vealed that women in Asia still face lim­i­ta­tions when it comes to job pro­mo­tions and that there is a sig­nif­i­cant falloff in their rep­re­sen­ta­tion at se­nior lev­els, high­light­ing how gen­der di­ver­sity is not yet a strate­gic im­per­a­tive for Chi­nese com­pa­nies.

“Even though women ac­count for half of Asia’s grad­u­ate co­hort, they are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­der-rep­re­sented at the se­nior lev­els of cor­po­ra­tions and are fac­ing dif­fer­ent ob­sta­cles in dif­fer­ent mar­kets, at dif­fer­ent stages of their ca­reers,” said Wang Jin, a part­ner Shang­hai of­fice.

“In China, for ex­am­ple, where la­bor par­tic­i­pa­tion rates are high, women ac­count for more than half of all pro­fes­sional en­try-level po­si­tions but far much less there­after.”

Grant Thorn­ton’s Women in Busi­ness re­port, which is based on the find­ings of 5,404 in­ter­views in 35 economies and 20 in-depth in­ter­views with se­nior busi­ness lead­ers, found that a woman’s ca­reer ad­vance­ment is usu­ally con­strained by a num­ber of fac­tors such as en­trenched so­cial norms, gen­der bias, par­ent­hood and ar­chaic busi­ness prac­tices.

It found that the pro­por­tion of women in top po­si­tions has barely changed through­out the years — it in­creased from 19 per­cent in 2004 to just 22 per­cent to­day — and will never reach

in McKin­sey’s higher than 24 per­cent over the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod.

A slightly more en­cour­ag­ing statis­tic is that the pro­por­tion of busi­nesses with no women in their lead­er­ship teams has dropped from 38 to 32 per­cent in the same time frame. This fig­ure drops fur­ther to 26 per­cent for the most dy­namic (or high-growth) busi­nesses listed in the sur­vey, and is cited as a prob­a­ble in­di­ca­tion of the ben­e­fits greater lead­er­ship di­ver­sity brings.

In or­der to ex­plore the pos­i­tive im­pacts of hav­ing more women in lead­er­ship roles, AmCham Shang­hai held the HeForShe con­fer­ence on Feb 24, gath­er­ing more than 150 busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives to dis­cuss how dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries could work to­ward ad­vanc­ing fe­male lead­er­ship and the best prac­tices for overcoming work­place chal­lenges.

In­dus­try lead­ers also talked about set­ting tar­gets to de­velop more women lead­ers, the met­rics for im­ple­ment­ing and mea­sur­ing progress, and how de­vel­op­ing women lead­ers can en­hance share­holder value.

“Busi­nesses need to rec­og­nize that mak­ing a top-level com­mit­ment to fa­cil­i­tate women’s ca­reer paths is in­te­gral to fu­ture pros­per­ity,” said Amit Midha, pres­i­dent of Dell Asia and Ja­pan Re­gion, dur­ing the con­fer­ence.

Grant Thorn­ton’s re­port added that women ac­count for one-half of the po­ten­tial hu­man cap­i­tal in any econ­omy. This state­ment is backed by the World Bank, which has said that coun­tries with greater gen­der equal­ity are more pros­per­ous and com­pet­i­tive.

“To put it sim­ply, when women thrive, busi­nesses thrive. If an econ­omy is only us­ing half of its most tal­ented peo­ple then it is im­me­di­ately cut­ting its growth po­ten­tial,” said Ja­son Chen, chair­man of the part­ner­ship board at Grant Thorn­ton China, dur­ing the open­ing speech of the con­fer­ence.

Grant Thorn­ton’s re­port sug­gested that gov­ern­ments around the world can play an im­por­tant role in help­ing more women reach the up­per ech­e­lons of the busi­ness world by in­tro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion per­tain­ing to the com­po­si­tion of cor­po­rate boards, parental leave or the build­ing of rel­e­vant in­fra­struc­ture such as child­care cen­ters at or near of­fices.

“Gov­ern­ments can raise more aware­ness of the is­sue and in­tro­duce poli­cies or sup­port mea­sures that help more women gain a foot­ing in the work­place and fill se­nior roles,” said Wang, a part­ner in McKin­sey’s Shang­hai of­fice which in­tro­duced the for­mula for change.

“The busi­ness com­mu­nity can also lead the way, set­ting stan­dards and act­ing as role mod­els in or­der to shift at­ti­tudes and build mo­men­tum for change.”


AmCham Shang­hai held the HeForShe con­fer­ence to help com­pa­nies ex­plore the topic of gen­der di­ver­sity.

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